Virgin Airlines Presumes All Men Are Child Molesters

Since most pedophiles are men, Virgin airlines naturally treats all men as potential pedophiles.

Since most pedophiles are men, Virgin airlines naturally treats all men as potential pedophiles.

ABC News (“Man Seated Next to Unaccompanied Minors Forced to Change Seats“)

A man traveling from to Brisbane from Sydney was asked to change his seats so he would no longer be next to two unaccompanied minors on a Virgin Australia flight.

A flight attendant asked 33-year-old Sydney fireman Johnny McGirr to switch seats with a woman after he was seated next to two young boys  on an April flight, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. McGirr said he estimated the boys to be ten years old.  He wrote about his experience in a blog post titled “My Virgin experience as a Paedophile!”

He said he was approached and told he had to move. When he asked why, he was told,  ”Well, because you are male, you can’t be seated next to two unaccompanied minors.”  He said he thought the request was sexist and discriminatory, but was told it was the airline’s policy.

“As I collected my things from the seat pocket I could see people looking at me and wondering why I was being moved. I was red from embarrassment. I felt like I was being judged and found guilty of a crime I hadn’t committed. It was an uncomfortable situation and I felt ashamed which was a weird feeling because I hadn’t done anything wrong.”

McGirr wrote to the airline to complain.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Australia confirmed the policy to the paper and said while the airline did not want to offend male passengers, its priority was the safety of children. ”In our experience, most guests thoroughly understand that the welfare of the child is our priority,” she said.

As a single father of two little girls, I’m four-square in favor of putting the welfare of children high on the priority list. But this is just an absurd policy. Which, thanks to McGirr’s blog post and some media outcry in Australia, is now under review. Indeed, the same report notes, British Airways was successfully sued over such a policy back in 2005, prompting Qantas and Air New Zealand to drop it.

Amusingly, the article was accompanied by this photo:

Would you let your child sit next to this man on a plane?

That thought crossed my mind, too, when I noted the appearance of Virgin’s Richard Branson in many of the photos when I was looking for one to illustrate the post. (And, yes, I would.)

Virgin’s policy here, though, is part of a much larger and more disturbing trend. We’ve gradually  taken the avoidance of tiny risks to such an extreme as to reverse the presumption of innocence. In order to board an airplane, enter a courthouse or any federal building, or even get into a museum, we have to prove that we’re not terrorists. In order to shop at some stores, we have to submit to exit searches to prove that we’re not thieves. Now, apparently, we have to switch seats on the off chance that we’re child molesters.  Yes, terrorism and child molestation are horrible things. And, yes, theft drives up prices for everyone. But how much of our dignity are we willing to give up in exchange for mitigating infinitesimal risks?

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dean says:

    The NFL has a new policy in place in which all fans are wanded prior to entry to the game. It’s a much better approach than the old pat-downs, but either way our freedoms continue to be whittled away. And, before anyone writes about “the price of safety,” these same safety measures are not used at baseball, football or hockey games. Also, they aren’t in place at any college football venues that I am aware of.

  2. Mr. Prosser says:

    Frankly, in today’s environment I would have preempted the attendant and asked to be moved. I’d rather be known as a jerk who doesn’t like kids than be accused of being a molester.

  3. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Meh. Seems like much ado about not too much. The market itself can take care of such things. If enough people don’t like one airline’s policies they’ll use that airline’s competitors sufficiently such that competitive imbalances will force the former to shift its policies. If customers don’t care enough about it then the airline shouldn’t care about it. Business 101.

    As far as that alleged risk avoidance conundrum there’s a fundamental, elephant in the room flaw with it: the outcome prong. Tiny risks are one element. Massive prospective damage, however, is the other element. You can’t discuss the former without discussing and understanding the latter.

    There’s nearly an infinitesimal risk for example that a plane you board will be blown up by a terrorist. But if it happens you don’t get “credit” for all the times it didn’t happen nor do you get to “offset” the damages by the overwhelming probably that it shouldn’t have happened. The damage is done. Everyone on board is dead.

    Insurance companies decades ago learned the hard way about the true elements of cost benefit analyses and the true elements of risk management. It took a while for other industries to catch on. Tiny risks of monumental damage require far more than tiny preemptive countermeasures.

    Governments for millennia have understood that it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially if you’re talking about existential threats involving matters of life and death. Fortresses. Exile. Preemptive military strikes. So on, so forth. All have existed for thousands of years and all are examples of ways in which states have addressed sovereign risk management. This mindset only started to change in very recent times, when governments got soft and people got loopy. Or is it people got soft and governments got loopy? In any case, in today’s age of de facto catatonia sometimes even reality slapping people in the face is not enough to wake them up. That’s not a good thing.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    I guess profiling if OK when liberal do it.

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Oops, “overwhelming probability that it shouldn’t have happened,” that is. Time for more coffee.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    But how much of our dignity are we willing to give up in exchange for mitigating infinitesimal risks?

    All of it James, all of it.

    ps:

    In order to shop at some stores, we have to submit to exit searches to prove that we’re not thieves.

    What stores do this? And how on earth can they do this w/o unlawful restraint? I can not imagine the circumstances under which I would submit to such.

    My immediate response would be “FU.” and then walk away. When they grabbed me and tried to restrain me I would immediately fall upon the floor and scream “HELP! I AM BEING ASSAULTED!” (hopefully I will have managed to bleed some, which because I am on blood thinners will be more than a little) at which point I will have the security guard arrested, and my multi-billion $ civil suit will be filed within 24 hrs….

    Seriously, they aren’t that stupid, are they?

  7. Scott says:

    I agree with what you write. On the other hand, although I have kids and am sympathetic, the idea of sitting next to unaccompanied children would make me welcome a move. Of course, I would try to leverage that into first class and free drinks.

  8. bill says:

    and since “most terrorists are muslim….”

  9. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Costco does the exit search as a matter of national store policy. Granted, it’s a “membership” outlet and consent is a condition to said membership. But I’ve also seen the practice at other stores, including various Wal Mart locations, over the years.

  10. Boyd says:

    Best Buy also tries to inspect folks leaving with obviously expensive items, too. If you don’t like the policy, though, the reasonable response is to not patronize that business. If you choose to make a scene as our friend from the Ozarks recommends, that may work once, but any sensible store manager would ban you from the store, which would make your future presence there trespassing.

    I don’t like it either, but I can choose to put up with it or not. Trying to exert my rights in a showy manner is too likely to backfire on me.

  11. MarkedMan says:

    @Boyd: At least in CT and NY, the Best Buys I’ve been in check your purchases against your receipt, but they certainly don’t body search you. Or perhaps not getting patted down by the (usually enormous) guard/bouncer is just one of the benefits of being a boring looking middle aged white male?

  12. Rob in CT says:

    So profiling, basically, but instead of keeping an eye on the (highly unlikely but possible) situation, you just move the guy. Lazy profiling.

  13. Boyd says:

    @MarkedMan: I don’t think anyone has said anything about body searches on exiting a store, MM. James was talking about receipt inspections at Costco, which are similar to those conducted at Sam’s Club and, to a lesser extent, Best Buy.

  14. Not agreeing with Virgin’s policy, but on the other hand, if I ever end up next to and unacompanied child, dear god, please move me to another part of the plane. I can think of few things more unpleasant than being trapped next to some out of control kid for five hours.

  15. Scott says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Now that I think about it some more, it is worse for the person who is asked to move to that seat. I think there would be more objection on that end. I think my response would be: “No, I don’t think so”

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Boyd:

    that may work once, but any sensible store manager would ban you from the store, which would make your future presence there trespassing.

    Not after I buy the store and ban the manager from the premises…. ;-).

    @Boyd:

    I don’t like it either, but I can choose to put up with it or not. Trying to exert my rights in a showy manner is too likely to backfire on me.

    Boyd, how does one exert one’s rights in a not showy manner? Especially when they, a private entity without police powers, have initiated the suppression of your rights in a public place? In a public manner?

    As to

    If you don’t like the policy, though, the reasonable response is to not patronize that business.

    Yeah, I already do that for any # of reasons (I have to be pretty desperate to walk into a wal-mart) but how does one reasonably know about the policy before one has been subjected to it?

    I get the whole Costco/membership angle and it makes sense (even legal sense) but there was a thread here just a couple days ago about a store owner engaging in unlawful restraint in order to have a person served with a trespassing citation. How is this not even more egregious?

    “We have no real suspicion that you in particular have stolen anything, and yet, because we can’t see everything and everyone at all times, we are going to presume that you are a thief and if you do not consent to an arbitrary search we are going to hold you for arrest on….” Exactly what charge? Asserting one’s rights?

    I just don’t see that dog hunting.

  17. Barry says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “Meh. Seems like much ado about not too much. The market itself can take care of such things. ”

    Econ One Oh Glibertarian One

  18. Franklin says:

    @superdestroyer: “I guess profiling if OK when liberal do it.”

    To quote Samuel L. Jackson: “English, m****rf****r, DO YOU SPEAK IT?”

  19. al-Ameda says:

    @superdestroyer:

    I guess profiling if OK when liberal do it.

    I thought conservatives, especially in Arizona, really liked profiling?

  20. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Joyner:

    But I’ve also seen the practice at other stores, including various Wal Mart locations, over the years.

    You don’t have to consent. If they ask to search your bags, just say “no” and continue on your way. They have no legal authority to stop you.

  21. James Joyner says:

    @Rafer Janders: Sure. And I do that in places where I haven’t given my consent as part of the membership contract. But most people don’t realize they can refuse to give consent or otherwise feel social pressure to submit.

  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Boyd:

    James was talking about receipt inspections at Costco,

    I didn’t read James’ words in that context (I have never been to a Costco, so when he said “search” I thought he meant, well, “search”)

    On the few occasions where I have actually gone to a Wal-mart, I have been subjected to receipt inspections a couple times. I always took it as an effort to check up on the accuracy of their check out people as all they do is look at the receipt to see the # of items purchased and count the # of items in your bag. They don’t even look to see if the items match up.

    Therefor, I always thought the practice fairly innocent.

  23. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Joyner:

    But most people don’t realize they can refuse to give consent or otherwise feel social pressure to submit.

    Which is exactly what these stores are counting on, and how these once-unacceptable practices become normalized.

  24. PGlenn says:

    Good post, Mr. Joyner.

    But how much of our dignity are we willing to give up in exchange for mitigating infinitesimal risks?

    I don’t know the numbers, but I’ve read that sexual abuse of children (not counting the despicable internet child porn “industry”) is overwhelmingly committed by family members or friends/acquaintances of the family. Whereas the risks of an abuse occurring under the above described circumstances would probably be infinitesimal.

    I wonder if we’re really making any progress toward lowering the incidence rates where they usually happen (again, not counting the internet) – within families – which are then typically insulated by layers of denial, moral blindness, ignorance (certainly, we’ve seen some horrific high-profile exceptions to this pattern – e.g., Penn State).

    Meanwhile, it becomes socially unacceptable for normal adults to smile at, or otherwise interact with, unrelated children in public. Yes, it’s essential that we take all reasonable precautions, but are these new types of social responses helping to reduce social pathologies, or somewhat reinforcing them?

  25. Gustopher says:

    I would welcome not being near small children. Filthy little bags of disease and boogers.

    However, it seems quite discriminatory to make women sit next to the damned things. Oh well, Man’s Priviledge and all that. Virgin moves up a notch next time I fly.

    (Also, the correct response to the bag checkers on exiting a store is a simple “No, thank you”)

  26. al-Ameda says:

    Virgin should isolate unruly kids and their inattentive parents to a padded room instead.

    A few years ago, on a return flight from Chicago to San Francisco, a 7 or 8 year old boy in the seat directly in front of me started flipping his seat back and forth repeatedly, causing my tray with peanuts and ginger ale to bounce up and down. I quietly asked the kid to please stop,that I had food on my tray. He did not stop, and his mother did nothing. Finally the kid caused my peanuts to go flying off the tray onto the floor and the adjacent passenger. I then firmly told the kid to please stop that he’d created a mess – the mother stood-up, glared at me, then told me never to speak to her child again. I told her, “fine, then you can clean up the mess.”

    By Virgins’ current policy I would probably have been turned in to the authorities.

    Full disclosure: I have 2 grown daughters, we traveled frequently, and I am sympathetic to parent who travel with infants and toddlers.

  27. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    So, let me just run through this one one more time. Sending your “minors” off on a plane without adult supervision is a good thing. And other (male) adults should be prepared to be inconvenienced in order that the actual parents (on those “in loco parentis”) not be inconvenienced.

    Okay, got it. Now it all makes sense to me. You know, that “It takes a village to raise a kid” thing with the “unless you’re a male villager” append.

  28. JohnMcC says:

    Does anyone here dispute that the airline in question has a responsibility for any minor who DID get moletsted? If they bear that liability, shouldn’t they have and enforce a policy to limit the risk?

    On a not unrelated note, I saw on 60Minutes that the Irish Catholic Church no longer allows ANY priest to be alone with ANY child, ever. Probably a damn shame for lots of wonderful priests and young Irishmen and -women. But if a bureaocracy has to make a policy….whaddaya expect?

    Maybe some commenters don’t like the particular policy. Fine. But that’s different than saying there shouldn’t be one.

  29. Rob in CT says:

    @PGlenn:

    This.

  30. Rafer Janders says:

    If they bear that liability, shouldn’t they have and enforce a policy to limit the risk?

    Sure. The question is whether the policy is sensible, proportionate, and effective, or is it merely “security theatre”, designed to look good without actually doing anything.

  31. Katharsis says:

    The problem here is that a MALE has been disenfranchised in some way. In patriarchy that’s never ok.

  32. MattT says:

    I used to be bothered by receipt checks at non-membership stores like Best Buy, until I saw a sign at the exit of Frys Electronics that read something like: “Please help us keep prices down by reducing theft, and allow our associate to check your purchase against your receipt.” That made perfect sense, and now I cooperate. I just wish they’d all ask as nicely; I much prefer this polite honesty over Wal-Mart’s fibbing that “we just want to make sure the cashier got your order right.”

    As for Costco, I remember reading when I joined that I was agreeing explicitly to submit my purchases to inspection in order to reduce theft.

  33. Rafer Janders says:

    @MattT:

    I used to be bothered by receipt checks at non-membership stores like Best Buy, until I saw a sign at the exit of Frys Electronics that read something like: “Please help us keep prices down by reducing theft, and allow our associate to check your purchase against your receipt.” That made perfect sense, and now I cooperate.

    But wait a minute, let’s think about this logically: there’s two options, A you’ve stolen something and B you haven’t. If A, why would you let them look? You’d have to be stupid, it’s a recipe for getting caught. So you should refuse the check.

    If B, you haven’t, then you know that them checking your receipt is a waste of time and yours. You know you haven’t stolen something, so the check will turn up nothing. There’s no upside to you, and in fact it’s a downside to the store because the time and energy checking your receipt is time and energy they won’t spend catching an actual thief, so again you should refuse the check.

    The only way a receipt check would actually work to reduce theft is if you have stolen something, they ask to see your receipt, and then you say yes, knowing full well that this will result in you getting caught.

  34. Rafer Janders says:

    @MattT:

    I used to be bothered by receipt checks at non-membership stores like Best Buy, until I saw a sign at the exit of Frys Electronics that read something like: “Please help us keep prices down by reducing theft, and allow our associate to check your purchase against your receipt.”

    Again, think of it this way: in your own individual case, how does them checking your specific purchase against your receipt help keep prices down if you yourself haven’t stolen anything? It won’t, since presumably it won’t produce evidence of theft.

    If you haven’t stolen anything, then the check will produce nothing, so knowing this in advance you should refuse. Otherwise you are knowingly wasting your time and theirs.

  35. Peter says:

    Stated policy on British Airways calls for seating a random woman next to an unaccompanied minor rather than a male employee traveling off-duty … notwithstanding the fact that by virtue of being an airline employee, the man would have undergone an extensive background check.

    As I understand it, most youth organizations have so-called “two deep” policies that prevent an adult from being alone in the company of children. Two or more adults must be present at all times. I have no problem with these policies, as they apply to both men and women.

  36. george says:

    @Scott:

    I agree with what you write. On the other hand, although I have kids and am sympathetic, the idea of sitting next to unaccompanied children would make me welcome a move. Of course, I would try to leverage that into first class and free drinks.

    The best response. And if not first class, definitely free drinks. I suspect they’d go along with that in a heart beat, just to keep the fuss down. Win-win.

  37. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    The key issue here is being overlooked: the guy was profiled as a potential child molester simply based on his being a man.

    Socially, we’ve marginalized and demonized men to the point where simply being a man around children makes you a likely pedophile. Likely enough to trigger pre-emptive action.

    Is there any reason we men shouldn’t reject this out of hand and push back at this sexual profiling?

  38. MarkedMan says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Jenos, I think you are right. I’m curious about something though. Does your sympathy to Johnny McGirr in this instance make you more sympathetic to the Muslim man who is subjected to extra security at the airport just because he is Muslim?

  39. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @MarkedMan: Where is that happening? The stories I’ve seen all talk about variations of “granny profiling,” not Muslim profiling.

    …and when was the last hijacking anywhere in the world that was NOT committed by one or more Muslim men, anyway? D. B. Cooper?

    But back to the point… when was the last day care opened by a man? Would you send your kid to Bob’s Day Care?

  40. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @MarkedMan: Let me make your failed parallel accurate.

    “Excuse me, Mr. Mohammed? Yes, would you mind changing your seat? We need you to go to the back of the plane, as far from the cockpit as possible. You’ll have a window seat, with two big, burly ex football players between you and the aisle. And we’re going to ask you to refrain from using the restroom or leaving your seat for any reason during the flight. No, we’re not saying you’re a terrorist, sir; we just need to take these precautions.”